February 27, 2024

Beyond Basics: 5 Advanced Applications of Campus Switches

Campus networks serve as the fundamental connectivity backbone for organizations. While basic switching and packet forwarding are essential functions, modern campus switches provide far more capabilities to empower next-generation networks.

This blog post will explore five advanced ways campus switches are being utilized beyond conventional duties. We'll look at how switches are driving security through Network Access Control (NAC), powering devices via Power over Ethernet (PoE), gaining insights via robust monitoring and analytics, enabling automation and programmability through SDN, and supporting emerging high-speed standards like multi-gigabit Ethernet and WiFi 6.

As networks face new demands from IoT, mobility, digitization initiatives, and more, campus switches are evolving with valuable innovations in security, intelligence, speed, and overall enablement. This sets the stage for our dive into five compelling advanced applications of modern campus switches.

1. Pervasive High-Power PoE

Power over Ethernet (PoE) allows campus switches to pass electrical power safely and data onto Ethernet cabling to linked devices like wireless access points, IP cameras, IP phones, and more. This avoids costly electrical re-cabling to power such devices physically.

Cisco Universal PoE switches can uniquely deliver 60W PoE, enabling high-performance hardware deployments while supporting low-power IoT endpoints concurrently. PoE priorities allow gracefully cutting non-essential devices during power overloads. PoE capabilities enhance reliability and continuity by eliminating fragmentation across separate power infrastructures.

PoE power budgets exceeding 1920W support environments densely packed with power-hungry devices. Fast PoE cuts down charging time while monitoring closely guards against overloads. PoE management opens up wireless flexibility - high-density WiFi designs provide blanket coverage without outlet constraints. Powered devices also operate during electrical failures through uninterruptible PoE.

2. Intelligent Network Access Control (NAC)

Network Access Control (NAC) switches allow administrators to authenticate any device attempting access, establish access policies, authorize verified endpoints into specific network segments, and continually monitor connected devices for compliance and security - with full automation. This brings advanced visibility plus dynamic access control tailored to users, devices, and contexts.

When an unknown endpoint device tries to connect to the network, NAC can quarantine access until identity is established via credentials or certificates. Users may be forced to install mandatory antivirus software and security patches and meet posture policies before access. Once on the network, persistent NAC monitoring can automatically detect threats, vulnerabilities, or suspicious activity - triggering real-time containment by restricting that device only to remediation VLANs with limited access.

Leading NAC solutions like Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) deliver a policy engine integrating MDM/EMM tools, AD, proxies, firewalls, and SIEMs for complete user/device visibility. Granular network access policies check app usage, geo-location, time-of-day, and more before allowing connectivity. Integrated TACACS manages switch, router, and application authentication centrally. Multiple 802.1X, MAB, and WebAuth portals enable wired, wireless, and VPN policy enforcement.

3. Pervasive Network Visibility and Actionable Insights 

Modern campus switches embed a wealth of integrated capabilities to monitor traffic, get metrics to baseline performance, identify issues quickly, and gain data-driven actionable insights to optimize efficiency.

Useful visibility tools include Flexible NetFlow for flow analysis, sFlow for packet sampling, Remote Packet Capture (RPCAP) for remote tracing, jitter/delay IP Service Level Agreement (IP SLA) monitoring, SNMP polling for device health, Built-in analytics convert granular wire data into high-level real-time dashboards exposing — bandwidth hogs, suspicious security events, retransmissions inferring network issues, compliance risks and more.

Network Assurance features utilize artificial intelligence to auto-detect outages, performance lags, and misconfigurations. Packet drops or errors plus client connectivity events are sequenced and compared to baseline patterns to identify network issues in seconds before users complain. Historical trend analytics spot intermittent issues also.

4. Automation and Assurance: The Future with SDN

Traditionally, configuring campus switches has relied heavily on manual, device-by-device changes that do not scale. SDN and network automation are changing that paradigm completely by separating the forwarding plane from an intelligent centralized control plane to programmatically manage policies and segmentation. Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA) allows descriptive network policies for users, devices, or applications using business logic for automated configuration and assurance.

SDN enables next-level agility - network changes to onboard new switches can be pushed across the fabric from DNA Center's single dashboard. Switch profiles define configurations for roles like PoE access, routing features, QoS policies, etc., which are automatically inherited, simplifying change control.

Additionally, network health insights help optimize traffic engineering. DNA Assurance spots anomalies and correlates events across switches to accelerate remediation. Automated patching prevents outages from firmware bugs. Machine learning continually tightens security and identifies hidden threats missed by manual approaches.

5. High-Speed Powerhouse

Modern applications like 4K interactive video, augmented reality/virtual reality, Big data analytics, storage, and VDI backup require massively scalable bandwidth and low-latency switches optimized for such demands, delivering congestion-free multi-gigabit capacity to every connected device. 

Cisco Catalyst 9000 family provides future-ready investment with non-blocking architecture that can scale from 48 ports at 10/25 Gbps to 912 ports at 10/25 Gbps per switch using efficient ASICs delivering Tbps+ switching capacity with nanosecond latency using advanced hardware buffers to absorb traffic bursts. These powerhouse speeds eliminate congestion risks with plenty of headroom to add devices.  

NBASE-T Alliance ports auto-negotiate and maximize throughput by supporting multiple Ethernet speeds over existing cabling Categories, minimizing upgrades. 25G, in addition to 10G and 40G uplinks, create high-speed on-ramps to robust core networks. At the same time, Cisco UPOE (Universal Power Over Ethernet Plus) concurrently powers every access port, eliminating tradeoffs between speed, power, and density.


In conclusion, while the primary purpose of campus switches is connecting devices and forwarding packets, advanced switches are becoming increasingly critical in providing security, analytics, automation, high speeds, and overall, more capable networks. Organizations must consider their requirements and budget when selecting managed switches that will empower productivity today and provide next-gen foundational connectivity to transform networks into intelligent platforms for digitization and IoT integration.

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